Tales of bookshops in two cities

Asia's Tech News Daily

#A Bookshop in Algiers, #Algiers novel, #Book Review, #books, #Books about bookselling, #bookseller, #bookshop, #Cairo, #Cairo novel, #Column, #culture, #Diwan Bookstore Cairo, #Edmond Charlot, #iconic bookshop, #Kaouther Adimi, #Les Vraies Richesses, #memoir, #Nadia Wassef, #novel, #Sanjay Sipahimalani, #shelf life

(Representative image)

In an essay on the time he spent working in a second-hand bookshop in London, George Orwell concluded that the profession of bookselling was not for him. Despite some happy days, it was here that “I lost my love of books”. The need to always praise titles to customers was distasteful, and still worse was having to constantly dust and haul volumes.

Fortunately, there are those who would disagree, though they may be a shrinking breed. As two recent books show, if there are sorrows, there are also many satisfactions. In Shelf Life, Nadia Wassef writes of her time as co-owner of Cairo’s Diwan Bookstore; and in A Bookshop in Algiers, Kaouther Adimi offers a novelised account of Edmond Charlot and his iconic bookshop, Les Vraies Richesses.

When Wassef and her sister Hind were asked during a dinner with friends what they would do if they could do anything they liked, both came up with the same answer: they would open a bookshop in Cairo. This was in 2001, a time of artistic stasis in Egypt, according to Wassef. “Writers became government employees; literature died many successive slow and bureaucratic deaths.” In her indomitable way, she goes on: “Starting a bookstore at this moment of cultural atrophy seemed impossible—and utterly necessary.”

Shelf Life is a forthright account of the fortunes of Diwan, the bookshop that she, her sister, and three others founded in Cairo’s upmarket Zamalek district. The name was suggested by her mother, who enumerated its translations: “a collection of poetry in Persian and Arabic, a meeting place, a guesthouse, a sofa, and a title for high-ranking officials.”

Remarkably, in the years that followed, they opened in 16 more locations all over the city (and closed in six). They achieved this by a combination of passion, candour, and – in Wassef’s case – not a little profanity. At one time, she was known behind her back as “the Terminator”.

Diwan became an inextricable part of their lives, through marriages, divorces, births, and deaths. They had to overcome the difficulties of running a business in a patriarchal society; navigate harassment and discrimination; cajole bureaucratic despots; and become fluent in Egypt’s censorship laws.

Notably, the book is structured around shop sections, moving from the Café to Egypt Essentials to Cookery to Self-help to Classics and more. Wassef integrates activities to create a portrait not just of developments in Diwan, but also in her life and society at large.

She writes from a position of privilege, one that she is aware of. When setting up a university outlet, she feels that the flagship shop catered to the literary elite, neglecting a large subset of the Egyptian population. Diwan should be affordable and accessible to younger generations across social strata: “We needed to start a relationship where there hadn’t been one.” At another time, writing of thefts by staff and clientele, she wonders “how much the expensive books and affluent customers alienated and demoralised my less privileged co-workers”.

Shelf Life also shows how Cairo has changed over the years, mirroring changes in other cities worldwide. With suburban sprawl, for example, comes an erosion of public spaces such as parks and plazas, and the rise of malls that threaten “the quiet dignity of small family-run shops and stalls”.

In the selection of English and Arabic titles, and the occasional controversy this causes among customers and censors, Wassef illuminates Egyptian cultural baggage and the need to shed outdated assumptions. “As I continued to read books and people over the years, Diwan, and Egypt, changed around me. As always, my shelves offered me an unexpected education on these changes.”

Soon after the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi, Wassef and her sister gave up their stakes in Diwan. She now lives in London and, recalling a teenage identification with the title of Camus’s The Outsider, concludes that “today, the knowledge that I don’t belong anywhere liberates me”.

Camus himself is an occasional but significant presence in Kaouther Adimi’s A Bookshop in Algiers (also published as Our Riches), translated from the French by Chris Andrews. The book is a fictional account of Edmond Charlot’s love for literature and enthusiastic promotion of writers.

In 1936, when he was 21, Charlot opened a bookshop-cum-library called Les Vraies Richesses in Algiers, a small space with a steep, creaky staircase but full of books and heart.  It was to last through the ravages of history in one form or another till 2017, by which time it was an annex of the country’s national library.

Adimi’s novel cross-cuts between past and present. It contrasts Charlot’s life with the activities of an engineering intern who has to get rid of the books that remain, repaint the bookshop, and get the premises ready for the next owner who plans to set up a confectionery shop.

The novel is slim but wide-ranging, perhaps too much so, encompassing social and political shifts, colonial attitudes, and current national ambivalences. Adimi does this through tonal and stylistic variations that range from the impressionistic to the realistic.

For Charlot, his bookshop was to be “a sort of meeting place for friends, but with a Mediterranean outlook”. Through diary entries, we learn of his successes, struggles, publishing ventures, and unflagging commitment to the written word. In one passage, he notes: “The writer has to sit down and write; the publisher has to give the book a life in the world. This isn’t something I can keep in a compartment. Literature is too important for me to spend time on anything else.”

Over the years, Charlot falls deep into debt; continues to publish and sell books during the Nazi occupation; joins the war effort; sets up another ill-fated literary venture in Paris; and, till the last, continues to encourage and advocate writers. Camus apart, among the others he published were Rilke and Lorca. It’s a remarkable life, rendered more poignant by financial and other difficulties.

As for the intern, “he has never liked reading, and all this printed, bound and glued paper has no charm at all for him”. Glimmers of understanding dawn when he is told: “Charlot left something beautiful here, something bigger than everything that was going on outside.”

At the end of his engaging The Bookseller’s Tale, Martin Latham, manager of Waterstones in Canterbury, acknowledges the role of customers and book-lovers who “prove every day that there is more to life than war and laundry”. In their own ways, these books by Wassef and Adimi also do just that.

Internet Explorer Channel Network
Asia's Tech News Daily
News Related

OTHER NEWS

BCCI makes Axar Patel, Ajaz Patel, Rachin Ravindra, Ravindra Jadeja pose, photo goes viral

The photo tweeted by BCCI. The BCCI on Monday put out a cheeky tweet with a photo of Axar Patel, Ajaz Patel, Rachin Ravindra, and Ravindra Jadeja standing next to ... Read more »

Omicron cases in India: What we know so far. 9-point guide

Representative image: Reuters As the Omicron variant of coronavirus cases surge in the country, let’s take a look at the recent developments in India. 1. India currently has 21 cases ... Read more »

Drivers For EV Transition Besides Shared Mobility

One of the ways to keep pollution in check is to move commuters from personal vehicles to public transport or ride-hailing platforms. That supplemented with cost-effectiveness opens up a huge ... Read more »

Viral photo: Scary crowd at Delhi airport after Omicron travel rules, Harsh Goenka says 'Covid hotspot'

Omicron variant in India: All passengers coming from “at-risk” countries have to compulsorily take RT-PCR test. (Image credit: Photo tweeted by @hvgoenka) Flyers using the Delhi airport complained of huge ... Read more »

Samsung Galaxy A03 Core launched in India with 5000 mAh battery, Unisoc processor

Samsung Galaxy A03 Core comes in a single 2GB RAM variant and sits below the Galaxy A03s, which was launched earlier this year. Samsung Galaxy A03 Core launched in India ... Read more »

Kareena Kapoor shares photo of Jennifer Lawrence with baby bump, calls her 'simply gorgeous'

Kareena Kapoor shared a photo of actor Jennifer Lawrence and her baby bump as an Instagram story. (Image credit: AFP) Kareena Kapoor Khan on Monday shared a photo of pregnant ... Read more »

Alec Baldwin deletes Twitter account days after big interview post film set shooting

Alec Baldwin said he has “no idea” how a live round had gotten onto the film set. Hollywood actor Alec Baldwin has deleted one of this Twitter accounts days after ... Read more »

IREP gives women entrepreneurs the support they need

Happy Woman designer sewing fabrics with assistant The winds of change are upon us. In spite of facing years of economic repression, social strictures and restricted access to finance and ... Read more »

Prince William reveals love for Australian hard rock band AC/DC

Prince William said that he listens to the band’s driving 1990 anthem “Thunderstruck” to ease himself into the working week. (Image credit: AFP) Britain’s Prince William has revealed himself as ... Read more »

Babri Masjid demolition: Who said what 29 years after demolition of mosque

File image dated October 1990 from news agency PTI showing the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya before the demolition. Today marks 29 years since the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh ... Read more »

CRED chief Kunal Shah asked for recommendations for 'visually stunning places in India', Twitter responded

CRED Founder & CEO Kunal Shah It’s Monday and CRED chief Kunal Shah‘s tweet is one of the perfect examples of Monday motivation. “What are some of the most visually stunning places ... Read more »

2022 MacBook Air launch rumoured alongside four new Mac machines

The upcoming entry-level MacBook Pro will come with the same M2 chip, which will debut with the MacBook Air M2. Apple is rumoured to launch at least five new Mac ... Read more »

Babri Masjid demolition: Leaders react 29 years after demolition of mosque

Babri Masjid demolition. (File photo) Today marks 29 years since the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh was demolished by kar sevaks (activists) who stormed the site in an event ... Read more »

Two hippos in a Belgian zoo test positive for Covid, quarantined

The building housing mother Hermien and daughter Imani has been closed to the public and their keepers have formed an isolated social bubble. (Image credit: Zooantwerpen) Two hippos in a Belgian zoo have tested positive for Covid, their ... Read more »

Apple lines up SE 2, rugged version of Series 8 watches for launch in 2022

Alongside the Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 8, Apple will also launch a new rugged version for athletes. Apple Watch Series 8 is expected to be launched in ... Read more »

'No one destroyed Babri Masjid...': Leaders react 29 years after demolition of mosque

Babri Masjid demolition. (File photo) …much like no one killed Jessica’Three weeks ago, on November 12, while speaking at the launch of Salman Khurshid’s book, “Sunrise over Ayodhya — Nationhood ... Read more »

Better.com CEO Vishal Garg lays off 900 employees over Zoom: "If you're on this call, part of unlucky group”

Better.com CEO Vishal Garg laid off 15 per cent of employees over a Zoom call. (Image credit: Screengrab from YouTube video by Power of Banana) Vishal Garg, the CEO of ... Read more »

iPad Pro with a new design, wireless charging rumoured to launch in 2022; iPad Air also in the works

The upcoming 2022 iPad Pro is said to sport a new design. Apple iPad Pro could get a major refresh in 2022. According to a new report from Bloomberg, the ... Read more »

Katrina Kaif-Vicky Kaushal wedding: Katrina Kaif heads to Vicky Kaushal's home ahead of wedding this week: reports

Katrina Kaif reached Vicky Kaushal’s Mumbai home along with her mother and sister. (Image credit: Photo tweeted by @ANI) Katrina Kaif and Vicky Kaushal are set to get married in ... Read more »

Zoho CEO Sridhar Vembu loved driving this auto, has ideas for Anand Mahindra

Zoho CEO Sridhar Vembu tried out the Mahindra Treo autorickshaw. (Image credit: Photo tweeted by @svembu) Zoho CEO Sridhar Vembu on Sunday tried out the Mahindra Treo electric auto. The ... Read more »

Google Doodle: Tried Google Doodle pizza slicing game today? Know history of our beloved dish

Google Doodle celebrates one of the world’s most popular dishes – pizza. Today’s interactive Google Doodle celebrates one of the world’s most popular dishes—pizza. On this day in 2007, the ... Read more »

Storyboard18 | Marketers believe they write good briefs. Ad agency execs disagree

At a fundamental level, briefs are the most elegant definition of the problem that the brand or business is facing. Adman Dave Dye asked on his blog ‘Stuff from the loft’: ... Read more »

Your New Year Trip: Bali, Indonesia

Kuta, a vibrant coastal town in Indonesia, is one of the most popular locations for New Year’s Eve celebrations. Entry guidelines: You will be able to enter Indonesia under the ... Read more »

Lost your Aadhaar card? Download and save it on your phone. Here's how

Keeping e-Aadhaar on your phone is an easy way to keep the document handy in case you lose the card. (File photo) Losing identification documents such as voter id cards ... Read more »

Interview | Social media sensation Kili Paul on his Bollywood connect and walking 2 hours daily just to charge his phone

Life for Tanzanian siblings Kili Paul and Neema changed after a video of them lip-synching to Raatan Lambiyan from Shershaah went viral on Instagram. That one song garnered over one million views (and still counting) ... Read more »

Yuzu and Indian spices mingle in this Indo-Japanese gin

From sushi to Kikkoman soy sauce and varieties of sake, several Japanese food and beverage products have made their way into India and gained wide acceptance over the years. Jai ... Read more »

'Lead Me Home' review: Two American filmmakers look inwards, at poverty in the US

‘Lead Me Home’ is a 40-minute documentary on homelessness in America. (Image: Screen grab) Hawai’ian poet Juliet Kono writes, impersonating a homeless man’s mother in her poem Homeless (From the ... Read more »

Elon Musk shares photo of 'Starships', promises to make Mars travel a reality

The photo of ‘Starships’ tweeted by Elon Musk. Elon Musk shared a photo of his Starships on Twitter a day after he announced that SpaceX has begun building a launchpad ... Read more »

NMC Group fraud case: B.R. Shetty back in UK court to annul UAE bank's $1billion freezing order

Dr B.R. Shetty is the founder of NMC Group, which has 200 clinics and hospitals in 19 countries. In December 2020, the high court in London imposed a worldwide freezing ... Read more »

Was Nagaland killings a case of mistaken identify? Here's what the Army has to say

The incident happened in Mon district which shares a porous border with Myanmar where the insurgent faction NSCN (K) are from. (Image credit: File photo) After 11 civilians were killed ... Read more »

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales's personal computer and NFT of first edit up for auction in New York

The personal computer that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales used when programming the online reference resource 20 years ago is going under the hammer, along with an NFT memorializing his first ... Read more »

Beat inflation with up to 7.05% FD interest rates offered by Bajaj Finance

The harsh economic conditions of the past year have made inflation quite an intense issue to deal with. In June 2021, retail inflation stood at 6.26%, but it has, thankfully ... Read more »

Mr. Beast, YouTube Star, Wants to Take Over the Business World

FILE: A Mr. Beast burger in New York on Feb. 24, 2021, from Jimmy Donaldson’s virtual chain. (Adam Friedlander/The New York Times) Jimmy Donaldson, 23, a YouTube megastar better known ... Read more »

44 million pending court cases: How did we get here?

Illustration by Suneesh K. This has now become a weekend ritual for our honourable judges. Any Sunday or Monday, if you take the trouble to open a newspaper—or check the ... Read more »

Gattipally Shivpal becomes the first dwarf to receive a driving license in India

Gattipally Shivpal becomes the first dwarf to receive a driving license in India Gattipally Shivpal used to be teased by people because of his height, but today he is India’s ... Read more »

Churuli and Annaatthe reviews: Two movies at totally different ends of the spectrum offer awesomeness

Rajinikanth in ‘Annaatthe’, streaming on Netflix (Image: screen grab) It’s simply amazing that Tamil, Malayalam and even Telugu movies offer a smorgasbord that is as wildly different as these two ... Read more »

A screenwriter and ad film maker join hands to create a special Indian gin

Khalil Bachooali and Devika Bhagat of Adventurist Spirits, which is launching Tamras gin in Goa in the third week of December. On a damp, drizzly August evening in London, in ... Read more »

Future of the fashion business

Danela White was not happy with what she saw in garment manufacturing hubs in South Asia, including India. Retail giants not only exploited labour, the intense manufacturing activity also triggered ... Read more »

Healing Space | The Great Indian Roast: Why Pan Parag matters so much to us

Illustration by Suneesh K. Note to readers: Healing Space is a weekly series that helps you dive into your mental health and take charge of your wellbeing through practical DIY self-care methods. ... Read more »

How Formula One pioneer Sir Frank Williams faced adversity

At 43, Sir Frank Williams had a serious road accident while speeding to an airport in France. He lost the use of his body below the shoulders. A lesser man ... Read more »
On free-english-test.com you will find lots of free English exam practice materials to help you improve your English skills: grammar, listening, reading, writing, ielts, toeic